The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Instagram

Robert Ryman painting exhibit spotlights the conceptual

The interesting thing about painter Robert Ryman’s work, on view at the Dallas Museum of Art, with its literal, simple grids and repetitious white canvases, is that it is actually interesting.

It is through the monotonous opticality of his mostly neutral color scheme and format that one begins to see the larger inconsistencies and the greater structure of painting.

Yet as the pre-eminent art critic Yve-Alain Bois asks, “Why is it so hard to write about Robert Ryman’s work? Aren’t his paintings themselves – preeminently anti-illusionist, flatly literal – all the explanation the viewer or critic needs to penetrate their ineffable silence?”

Take for example, Ryman’s “Untitled (1962)” – a brown background with the mechanics of its materiality evident in its linen texture, coupled with a smallish grid square overlaid with layers of green and then white paint.

“Untitled (1962)” is a painting that effectively has everything needed in a Modernist masterpiece: abstraction, lack of depth and the artistic gesture. Ryman has taken “art for art’s sake” to its apotheosis in that he actually exposes the grid onto which painting is applied.

In his placement of the smaller square within the framework of a larger one, he not only draws attention to the mechanics of painting enacted in the space the paint is applied, through the gesture of the artist’s paintbrush, but the greater frame of the space in which the painting is placed.

While white square paintings may seem like a one-trick pony, spend a bit of time walking around the Dallas Museum of Art’s barrel vault and surrounding galleries where Ryman’s works are installed.

Notice how his paintings are installed and how they interact with the space around them. Ryman does have some tricks up his sleeves, and if one can only give his paintings some attention, they will afford the viewer some rewarding results.

The bulk of his paintings play with the boundaries not only between sculpture and painting but the wall and canvas. Some of his paintings are hung a distinct distance from the wall on metal brackets, while with others the white paint moves seamlessly from paper or canvas to the white gallery walls.

Further, when looked at up close or from the slide, the buildup and gesture of Ryman’s paint yields almost sculptural results, a three-dimensional relief moving from the mere illusion of depth and space to the real thing.

This is painting that, very consciously, is an object. It is an object in our space and as such changes how one thinks one is situated, how one looks. Painting is not a form that should lend itself to such experience, but maybe a grid is not just an illusionist window.

As Ryman states, “It’s hard to describe a painting. You can describe to a certain extent, but it’s always more than that. Always. The more is the part that matters.” Maybe he is right, but it seems like description is a good place to start.

Robert Ryman is on view through this Sunday at the Dallas Museum of Art.

More to Discover